Chapter 3. Evo Devo Foresight: Unpredictable and Predictable Futures

1. Evolutionary Factors

A. Stories, Causes, and Assumptions

We humans make sense of the world in at least three key ways. At the most obvious level, we tell stories, what futurist Sohail Inayatullah calls our “litany,” about the topic or system we seek foresight on. We also think in terms of causes, imagining a range of causal factors that have led to where we are, and that control where we are going, and we may not tell all of those causes as stories, especially if there would be social repercussions. But we will share them in small groups, when there is trust, and even more when confidentiality is assured. Finally, we bring a range of assumptions to our thinking, some of which are mentally available to us and some of which are hidden in the models, institutions, myths and metaphors that we live by. In a very rough sense, we can think of all three of these factors as determining our world view, and thus our “future view”.

The foresight tool of Causal Layered Analysis (CLA), developed by Inayatullah, is a great way to surface and critique these factors. CLA shows us the current view of why we are here, as everyone sees it, and some of the ways our current set of stories, causes and assumptions limit our views of the past, present and future. That means 95% of what it uncovers will be evolutionary. CLA will uncover some developmental factors, as some of our stories, causes, and assumptions relate to the probable future. But as it doesn’t treat the probable future in any privileged or quantitative way, it is primarily an evolutionary foresight tool.

In my experience, the first two levels of CLA, Litany (what we all say is important, or is causing current conditions) and Causes (what we think may be causing current conditions) are particularly helpful for quickly seeing the current possible future view. I group CLA’s next two layers (Structure and Metaphor) into one, as a general search through our current models, cultural preferences, institutions, myths, and metaphors, for any assumptions we make that may bias us to see the future of a topic or system in a particular way.

Once litany, causes, and assumptions are listed or “mapped,” we can question each of these maps, and ask if there are other litanies, causes, or assumptions that we can imagine, or that may be preferred in other cultures, or in previous eras, that may also be relevant. This general practice can open us up to possibilities that we need to see, in order to better evaluate them.

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